They always say that the difficult horses have the most to teach you. That good horses don’t make good riders and that the more times you’re thrown, the more tenacity you learn. That the top horses are always a little sensitive, a little quirky, not everyone can ride them (as Valegro nods sagely in the background whilst carrying an eleven-year-old girl around on his patient back). There’s an undercurrent of feeling where if your horse isn’t that horse that’s a little crazy, maybe you’re not that rider who can do all the hard things.
But today I’m going to tell you everything I learned from my easy, sweet and safe horse.
Sure, he’s not the best ever on outrides and he’s got a spook in him, but he’s always been a steady sort. Even as a little foal he never had those crazy little baby tantrums while trying to navigate life with humanity. He wore his first saddle without a buck and fell asleep while I was putting on his first bridle. I was 15 and knew nothing. He was 2 and patient as a monolith, even then.
He was a clotheshanger-shaped two-year-old when I sat on him for the first time. I hadn’t done one quarter of the necessary groundwork, but he just turned his head to sniff at my toe and then went to sleep.
Fast forward seven years and he is still a good boy. He has his nervous moments, but in all our years of riding, I have only once believed I was actually going to come off him. We were walking and I was mostly asleep, one hand on the buckle, when huge lizard jumped up a rock out of nowhere and he jumped. I didn’t have reins, so he cantered off a few steps as I slithered down his side, stopping when I managed to get hold of a rein and drag myself back on board. Both times that I actually did fall off him, he was 3, we were hacking, and my (unreliable) girth came off. He always came back for me.
He has a quiet mouth. He doesn’t really go lame. He has a soft, supple back that doesn’t really go into spasm. These are probably reasons why he’s easy in his mind. He’s comfortable to sit on, not particularly flashy in his gaits, and rather on the slow side.
He’s not the horse that holds a grudge or gets offended by my myriad mistakes. His chiropractor, who has a deep intuition for horses, summarized him: “Oh, you just feel like everything is going to be OK when you’re with him.”
He is my easy, sweet and gentle horse. And here is what I learned from him.
I learned to ride a flying change, a half pass, renvers, travers, piaffe. A real shoulder-in, a straight leg-yield. A good simple change. A true connection, a supple bend, and a square halt. A figure eight in rein back. I learned these while he was learning them, because he was willing to learn, because he was helping instead of hindering.
I learned that mistakes are forgivable. I learned that there is a depth of grace out there that absorbs all sin, because a droplet of that grace lives in my little bay horse.
I learned that manes are still good for crying into when you’re a grownup.
I learned how to try, to give my best even when it’s not much on the day, to rise above fear and uncertainty and to try regardless because of how this horse always tries.
I learned about the depth of what horses do for us, about the scope of their kindness, about how much better I need to be for them. I learned to put aside everything and ride for the sake of the threefold cord, for the dance, for the joy of the fact that God made horses and he made us.
I learned to find a taste of eternity in the swing of a stride. And I liked it.
I learned that even on the worst days, horses still smell like heaven.
I learned that there are few greater gifts than a stalwart friend, even if that friend has four legs and a fluffy forelock.
I learned that I do have wings after all.
I learned that we can do anything.
I learned all these things from a 15.1 hand bay gelding who doesn’t rear or buck or bolt or kick or bite or get wildly wound up about life. I learned them from an easy horse.
And I love him.
Glory to the King.
By the way, ROW is now on Instagram! Find me on @ridingonwater for daily adorable Thunder pics and bits of philosophy.
Yesterday I didn’t even realise what day it was until I discovered that, despite being as single as they come, I have a Valentine.
He is all of seven years old, but he brought me chocolate. Thus, he wins.
On a more serious note, I was back at Winstead facing my demons. I really love being there, but I’ll be honest – I stood on the mounting block just staring at my steed for the day with a feeling of absolute helplessness for a few seconds. But I laid it down, and God came through for me. With the help of the wonderful Monty who is like a smaller version of Al who likes close spots (like me). We had a fantastic lesson and jumped all the things with only one panicky recitation of Psalm 23.
And just as I thought I was getting used to riding big horses, coach K put me on a creature that dwarfed the mere 16.2hh beasts I had been riding. Royale is the most incredible fancy comfy upper-level jumper thing, and I had a blast, but wow. He is big.
I also got to ride Kardinal again and he got to show me how to do good canter-walk transitions approximately four million times, poor chap.
The day ended after some lovely lessons with an absolutely splendid sky to take our breath away.
Today did not start off on as good a note when poor old Mutterer and head groom T ran out of fuel on the way here. We fed really late, but on the plus side I got a pretty picture of a view that I’ve seen so many times and never been able to photograph because I’m always driving.
Once I finally got to start the riding, Arwen gave me the opportunity to unwind a bit by taking me for a stunning hack across the fields. She dragoned a bit and got quite hot and bouncy, but didn’t buck or go nuts.
Destiny went beautifully today. He is firmly under saddle now and hasn’t been at all naughty, although he felt resistant today when I pushed for a more active walk. He gave me a happy little trot, though.
Tara also schooled well; so chilled and rhythmic, but her turn right button occasionally seems to glitch. She’s not naughty, just keeps merrily going straight while you would really rather turn right. We had improvement by the end.
I schooled Jamaica over a 75cm vertical, the biggest I’ve jumped him, with a ground line set the height of the fence away from the base. Neither Maica nor I are any good at seeing a distance and this exercise really helped. He also seemed impressed by the fence and didn’t take a single pole.
I rode the same exercise on Starlight, just rather smaller. She has improved hugely under her mom’s schooling and has such a powerful little jump.
Faithy and I went walkies, to her delight. Faithy adores walkies and pulls all the way out and all the way back. She’s spooky but super curious, and in her world, separation anxiety ain’t no thing.
Midas, Sunè and Lancelot all had flatwork this afternoon and all did great. Midey feels so ready for HOY I can taste it. Sunè’s left turn doesn’t always happen gracefully in canter, but at least she’s got leads and connection now. And Lancey learns slowly (not for lack of intelligence, but for lack of attention), but he grasped lengthening his canter beautifully today.
Gasp! How could you say that? Obviously only [insert guru here]’s Miracle Way of the Horse is the only right way to do [insert training obstacle/goal here], which of course you can’t accomplish without [$$$$$ glorified lunging whip/bitless bridle/neck strap], and all other ways are Wrong.
Bitting up is Wrong. Bitless is Wrong. Draw reins are Wrong. Whips are Wrong (but not carrot sticks or whatever). Or maybe the One True Way involves a magic gadget of magicalness. And don’t even think about deviating from the training scales!
Um, guys. How many horses do you know that read Principles of Riding or watch YouTube?
The funny thing about these methods is they all work. For certain people and certain horses in certain circumstances, they work. The better ones work for the vast majority of horses. But nobody would be peddling these methods, or accepting them for hundreds of years, if they didn’t work.
There are only two wrong ways. The way that really hurts somebody (equine or human), and the way that doesn’t work.
Take Magic, for instance. Magic will curl up, flip his head, invert and flail to the best of his ability if subjected to the horrible cruelty of an apple mouth snaffle. I did the Wrong thing and bitted him up to a Kimberwick. He almost instantly transformed into a horse that could go forward into a steady contact in a relaxed and more or less graceful manner (most of the time).
This horse had been trained (badly) for polo and was the most extreme case of head up = adrenalin up I have ever seen. Her rhythm and tempo were appalling and she had no concept of suppleness until one day she nearly broke my nose with her permanently raised head, so I put a martingale on in the interests of my nasal well-being. She put her head down and suddenly she could float and bend and relax. We turned the training pyramid on its head, starting with something a little like connection, which is Wrong. She is now being a riding school pony that competes in dressage with kids. It was Wrong but it worked for Flare.
Liana had similar problems to Flare, being extremely tense with a very high head carriage and tiny, piggy little strides. Her flatwork sucked so I did only jumping and relaxed hacking for nearly six months. Which is Wrong. Everyone knows you need to have solid flatwork before you can jump. But Liana adores jumping. She became so relaxed and happy over fences that when we returned to flatwork, she was suddenly and magically a dressage horse.
So my horses got happier and better thanks to my incorrect training, but that doesn’t make the training scale wrong.
I trained Nell according to convention and she earns her highest scores for the basics and her lowest for connection, as according to the training scales. It worked for her, and for Arwen and Whisper and Sookie and Reed and half a dozen other furballs I trained “properly”.
OK, so how about starters? Surely a clean slate should always come out the same way when a certain method is applied?
Bruno was fresh off the veld – cleanest slate you could find. I never did Join-Up or desensitisation on this pony. I started him bareback and spent most of my initial groundwork just hand grazing him, and he’s a relaxed, happy, obedient, responsive and laid-back ride.
With Quinni, on the other hand, I did practically everything by the book – Join-Up, despooking, pressure-release exercises, the works. She is also a happy, relaxed, responsive horse to ride.
Ultimately it is very easy to get bogged down in a method or a way. We all say we train dressage, or soft feel, or Parelli or whatever. But realistically, we all train something Handmade – a unique, created being that, just like us all, has emotions and quirks and sensitivities and vices and scars and secrets and baggage.
With Bruno and Lancelot being well started, nevertheless I haven’t run out of unbacked babies. I have a queue of starters waiting for me (two Appaloosas, an Arab, a rather interesting crossbred, a Welsh pony and Exavior himself – and those are just the ones actually at the yard) but I have only so many rides in me every week, so right now I’m working on two of the loveliest grey ladies in the world.
This is Olive, our first draft at the yard. She is a bit of a crossbred but there is a whole lot of Percheron there, which makes her fluffy and huge with extra helpings of adorable. She arrived in June with only very basic work done – a bit of halter training and a lot of friendliness towards people – and has made good progress.
True to draft form, she is the sweetest thing on four legs, which has made her trainable despite not being the sharpest knife in the drawer. We started out with basic lunging, where she proved much more forward-going than I expected of such a big floof,
and now we have moved on to the roller and desensitisation and pressure-release exercises and finally, weight. (Although I don’t think my mass compared to Olive’s can really be called “weight”.)
As expected from a homebred, she was pretty cool about being desensitised and not bad about weight. It took a few sessions for her to stop mouthing the bit incessantly, but I finally reverted to an old trick I learned from the Mutterer (AKA king of starting youngsters) and just left her in the round pen with the bridle on for half an hour. With all her brainpower free to figure out this new question, she was relaxed about it by the time I returned and we haven’t had a hitch since.
The second starter is the drop-dead-gorgeous Quinni.
Quinni is impeccably bred, with some of the best Nooitgedachter blood in history blended with her Anglo-Arab sire to create one of the nicest young horses I have ever seen. She is drool-worthy from her impressive size and conformation to her wonderful floatiness. Add in a dash of cuteness, a high IQ and a darling personality, and you have me sold.
Sadly for me, although I am casually on the lookout for a fancy dressage horse, I am broke and Quinni is older than what I was looking for. Also, her owner is set on keeping her for a broodmare, a decision which I wildly applaud. Lots of baby Quinnis running around can only be a good thing.
This has not prohibited me from enjoying my time with her. We had a bit of a sticky start when she came down with a horrific acute biliary, but she’s a fighter and kicked that bug with a vengeance. I had started her on the lunge and popped a saddle on her at her breeder’s, so she bounced back quickly from her illness and waltzed through her groundwork without apparent effort. The horse is naturally balanced, intelligent, eager to please and sensitive – what more could you ask for? I was expecting a little fireworks when I sat on her the first time, as she does have that sensitive streak that can cause issues during starting, but I needn’t have worried. Her first three rides were among the easiest I have ever had on a baby.
After getting thrown from Dirkie last year I truly thought it would be more than a year before I pulled myself together enough to get back on a baby, especially a bigger baby like these two. But of course, God is faithful and the power of Christ is in me.
[Side note: I will write a brief recap of June at some point, I really will. Bad blogger! But for today, here’s some drivel that’s been floating around in my head for a while.]
My own riding has me a little disheartened lately. I have never been the most confident rider or someone that finds riding easy, but I have always been ambitious. And lately, that’s led to a whole lot of disappointment.
I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t trying my guts out to get better at this. I was the kid that was forever drawing pictures of her first pony winning the Olympics. I’ve had goals and plans and lofty dreams all my life; since I was seven years old I would watch the pros on TV, then close my eyes and picture me riding that perfect 1.60m course or Grand Prix freestyle on old Skye. I want it so bad I can taste it. It’s not really about the victory, I just have this craving to be so good at it. I really want to feel what it’s like to ride a 10 for a half-pass. I really want to go double clear at 4* with the grace of a dancer. And I’ve been working for that since I can remember. I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t riding at least 6 days a week, and since I was 12, that’s been multiple horses a day. That’s a lot of saddle time and a lot of blood and sweat and tears, and all I have on my show record is one grading point at Novice, one at 70cm, and one at EV70. I have been eliminated repeatedly and dramatically in every discipline I ride in with the exception of dressage, and I know that’s only a matter of time. The only graded classes I’ve won have been ones where I was the only one that showed up, barring one, where my 8-year-old was competing against a real greenie. It’s not exactly the kind of show record you expect from a trainer, much less a coach. Horse riding takes years, this I know, but at every show I see juniors and pony riders doing medium and 1.20m and EV100 and they’re winning.
The last thing I can blame is the horses, because I have some really, really incredible horses. These horses have more scope and talent than I do, and they try their courageous hearts out for me.
And that is kind of discouraging sometimes because I have many shortcomings, but lack of drive is not one of them. Every year, I ride more horses, I take more lessons. I ride when I’m sick and hurting, I ride in the rain and the cold, I get back on over and over. For the last six months of 2015, I have 569 sessions recorded in my logbook, and I ride a lot more now than I did then. I did my stint as a working student and I did my share of falling off wild ponies for peanuts. I have never quit on riding, not once; the longest I have gone in my memory without riding has been two weeks – the two weeks that Magic was sick. And sometimes it’s like it’s just not achieved anything. And that was so painful and confusing. I keep wanting to ask God what I did wrong. Why hasn’t He taken me up the grades? What have I missed? Where did I mess up? Is this not His plan for me after all? Why don’t I have anything to show for it on paper?
And God said, “I wasn’t looking on paper, daughter.”
He opened my eyes to what really matters and it hasn’t been the destination or the dreams I’ve been chasing. It’s been the things that matter to Him, the things He has been calling me to all this time, this time that I’ve been trying to follow His light through the dark glass of my own ambition.
Because looking back, the changes in my horses’ training and ability haven’t been huge. But the changes in their minds and emotions? They have been enormous.
When I got this horse he was relatively fresh off the track, but he could walk and trot and canter and whoa and go and turn and pop over little crosses. Almost four years later, he’s doing 70cm with mixed results. You know how long it takes a pro to take a baby off the track to 70cm? We’re not even using the same calendar here.
But when I got him he was also a hypersensitive, neurotic creature you couldn’t sneeze near or his brain would exit stage left. You literally could not move your hands too fast or he’d jump up in the air like you’d hit him with a cattle prodder. He was anxious to box, he was anxious to saddle, he didn’t tie up, and his frequent and relentless panic attacks would have him a trembling, eye-rolling, lip-poking, leaping mess for an incredible amount of time. If something set him off, he’d literally be highly strung for days afterwards – days. He wasn’t just a silly baby off the track, he had horse PTSD. When his switch flipped, you could forget it, you weren’t getting him back that day. Maybe not even the next.
You know he’s now one of the quietest horses to handle at the yard? You can park him wherever, chuck his lead rein over his neck and he’ll just stand there looking adorable while you flap around looking for his boots. He ties up. He loads like a charm. He travels perfectly. He doesn’t hide from rain anymore, he runs and bucks and plays in it. He is just this giant happy puppy dog of a horse. Magic still has his edge, he’ll always have his edge. Like humans, horses get some scars that won’t ever heal perfectly. He still has all the same triggers and they still set him off just as quickly, but I can talk him down off his ledge in minutes. Minutes. Yesterday we had an off-site lesson and something set him off and he stopped at this 20cm cavaletti and I ate a little dirt, but I got back on him and in 30 minutes we were jumping the biggest fences we’ve ever done off property. He was so happy. He was just cruising. And I am his anchor. Nobody else in the world right now would have gotten him back so quickly, nobody else can ride him like I can. And it’s not that I’m a good rider. I’m not even a good trainer and I’m really no good at baby racehorses. But I am the world’s leading authority on Magic because I really truly care about him and that’s turned him right around. Magic does not care that we’re only doing 70cm. Magic cares that his spinning world has stilled. Magic cares about cookies and ear rubs and that I never, ever push him past what he can’t handle, even if that means we’ll do 70cm until I’m 40.
Magic cares about the love in me, and we all know that the other name for love is God. And if you put it like that, I’d take it over A-grade any day.
He hasn’t been the only one. Arwen was a promising but unbacked two-year-old. She is now a nine-year-old that gets extravagantly eliminated at EV70. But she was also a skittish, insecure, lazy, excessively herdbound filly. Now she is a wonderful, confident, enthusiastic fireball of a horse that loves galloping away from home on outrides and kicking the butts of anyone who thinks they can stop her.
Nell was hypersensitive, resistant, and amazingly spooky. Her first dressage tests are a long string of 3’s and 4’s with comments like “tense” and “very uncertain”. Now she comes down that centreline like she owns it and judges call her “obedient” and “willing”.
There have been still more. Horses you couldn’t touch, now shoving their noses into your hands, asking for attention. Horses that leaned on all your aids, wringing their tails with frustration, now stepping forward with an easy, swinging, enthusiastic stride. Horses that were so tense they had their ears up your nostrils and jumped at every touch, now packing nervy kids around at shows.
My horses are not particularly well-schooled horses. I am not “one to watch”. I am not the next Charlotte Dujardin or Monty Roberts. But after enough of my work, my horses are really, really happy, healthy, relaxed, enthusiastic, confident horses. They love their work.
One of Nell’s first dressage tests, when she was jumping like a gazelle and my heart was sitting somewhere in my boots, holds the greatest compliment I have ever received as a rider. “Empathetically ridden.” And I have my impatient days, but I do everything I can to understand these most wonderful of God’s creatures.
I don’t think it matters to the Olympic committee, or to anyone that reads my show record, or to prospective clients. None of the top riders I see at shows notice me for it and it definitely doesn’t win me any ribbons. But it matters to me, it matters to the horses, and it sure matters to God.
So yeah, I would still love to ride Grand Prix and I’m still going to work hard and dream and God willing someday a happy athlete will carry me down the centreline at a collected canter. But mostly, I’m just going to love my horses and my people. Jesus loves when I do that, and it’s the only thing I can do that has any real consequence. All the rest is just fluff. And fluff is cool, but it’s still just fluff.
I love my horses. Nobody can ever take that away from me. And for God, that’s enough. So right now, I’m deciding that it’s enough for me, too.
Magic went to his second graded show; I made a whoopsie in the first class and landed feet-first in the oxer. Then I made exactly the same whoopsie in the second class and landed bum-first in the combination. Apparently one shouldn’t drop Magic at the scariest fence on course. Who knew, right?
Poor old Magic was unphased, albeit somewhat confused about why Mom had so suddenly dismounted. After a lesson and a mild scolding from my coach about the fact that perfect horses must be ridden perfectly, we went to a training show in May and jumped two perfectly clear rounds without batting an eyelash.
My confidence suffered only the most minor of knocks. Magic is that one horse that always has me smiling – even in this shot taken in the second class of our disastrous show.
Arwen went to Nooitie Nationals and proceeded to win every class she entered.
The showjumping. The dressage.
The pairs. And then, National Champion in hand.
The only thing she didn’t win was the show riding, which she could have if she hadn’t had a violent head flip in the rein back. Well, we won’t be showing a rein back again… despite getting a 6.5 on the same movement in dressage.
Nell also went to Nationals and raked in her fair share of ribbons. She won her in-hand class,
the pairs, one of her two dressage tests, and the novice show hunter.
Then in May we went to Hollyberry Hall for the third leg of the YHPS and completed with 64%. As usual, we were dead last, but considering that the second-to-last horse had 64.1%, I won’t complain; she’s a pony with a green rider and she’s standing her ground amongst the best. Also, that’s a 4% increase from our last YHPS. I’ll take it!
Exavior was turned out to pasture to await being gelded, whereupon he will be brought back into work and backed. He put on an inch to reach 16.0 hands and became more gorgeous than ever.
The pregnant fairies, Cherry and Milady, continue to glow with pregnancy. Milady was briefly brought back into work when she had a client interested in her and behaved impeccably for a 6yo thoroughbred that had been out of work for half a year, but sadly it was not to be. Or not sadly. I still get a cute baby in October, so maybe we shouldn’t complain too loud.
Bruno went to his first show at Nationals and took everything in his stride. He loaded, travelled, and behaved perfectly. He only did in-hand, during which he was so relaxed that the ring steward had to hit him with a clipboard to make him trot up. Later in the weekend I hacked him around an empty warmup arena and he barely bothered to waggle his giant ears. He also did a few lessons with the smaller kiddies that are just off the lead and trotting on the lunge line. Albeit having slightly erratic steering, he proved to be as safe as a house and his slow steady rhythm was perfect for the tiny tots.
Lancelot had his first ride, a momentous occasion that turned out to be a non-event. He was very stuck with going forward when asked, but followed the Head Groom around with myself on his back without batting an eyelash. I was chagrined; I had expected some craziness from him, but he was as quiet as they come.
Big old Sookie’s tripping improved, so we were able to move on to cantering. Her transitions were truly dreadful (ever tried flailing *and* being crooked *and* almost falling *and* crashing onto the forehand all at once?) but the canter itself is her best quality gait. We also shipped her out to Hollyberry Hall for a schooling session when we took Nell; she loaded great and travelled fairly well (a little anxious but very well behaved). At the Hall I took the precaution of lunging her – she is huge and I still don’t quite trust her not to fall on her nose if she decides to jump or spin – but it wasn’t necessary. She was looky, but sane, controllable, and totally nonviolent despite being in a big and quite spooky indoor. Good Sookie!
Whisper had her photo shoot done and was snapped up in short order. Before she went, we progressed to cantering on the correct lead and then to jumping. We even took her to her first show and did ground poles. The organisation and layout was terrible, so the round didn’t go too well, but despite being severely anxious Whisper didn’t get violent once. That’s a truly safe horse right there.
Finally, Liana jumped her first 70cm under me and came sixth in a massive class. In May, she also jumped her first 80cm with me and took a couple of poles but was brave to every fence.
Then she did another 60 and 70cm at Nationals with her kid, snagging the National Champion Showjumper title without apparent effort.
She rounded off the show by jumping her first working hunter round, where she had a spot of bother at the straw bales but did not appear at all phased by the banks.
Another chaotic month at Morning Star Stables, and all our adventures for the glory of our King.
After a very damp and slow time last week, we were all raring to get back into action this week. The weather played along absolutely beautifully with a whole series of calm, sunny, balmy days and bone dry footing making for some serious riding.
My jump exercise of the week was a little grid, mostly because I fear and despise grids and therefore should do several of them to get myself over it and convince myself of their usefulness. It was a simple one, but quite daunting for pole-phobic yours truly: 3 trotting poles to a small cross, one stride to a vertical, one stride to another vertical.
Magic was the highlight of my week, which he’s pretty good at being. Still working on getting him forward off the leg, I was also able to get a couple of consist trot leg-yields from him, riding him in the snaffle. He’s no Valegro, but I was thrilled when he gave me the Novice 5 leg-yields beautifully (10m circle at L, then leg-yield back to the track around R). I was nervous to take him through my little grid because I thought he might make a mistake and then we’d flail and panic through it, but what do you know – he was perfect. I did have to make the one strides a little longer as I’d set them for ponies, but even when it was too short, he just took the short distances and popped in an out like a good grownup horse. I have video evidence.
Arwen was the one who actually introduced me to the grid. She was good up until I put up the first vertical, at which she had a dishonest and unreasonable stop, so I gave her a good one along the backside with my crop. These stops are becoming a naughty habit of hers. Thereafter she didn’t try it again and jumped with a more Arwen-like gusto, popping through the whole thing with great enthusiasm and even some straightness. She was so good that it stopped being scary and even became really, really fun at one point, something Arwen is excellent at doing for me. She also put in two solid flatwork sessions, giving me her best haunches in along the track so far. Her canter was a little weak on Friday, though. She also packed some students around on outrides, which she enjoyed greatly as they don’t seem to be able to stop her from eating anything that happens to grow at nose level.
Nellie had a relaxed but good week. She has been struggling with bend and suppleness lately, so we had an intensive lesson with the Mutterer on Wednesday working on that. We did a whole lot of Parelli flexions, finding her a lot stiffer to the right than the left (as expected). She still tends to fall against my right leg quite a bit but working on getting that better. As a side note, when she got stuffy and frustrated with lateral work and flexions, I was ordered to take her for a gallop around the jumping arena. This worked like a charm. It really got her thinking forward and relaxed again. I’ll definitely be using that trick in the future. I led a couple of outrides on her as well and she was super – relaxed, confident, just a little looky.
Exavior was a bit of a dweeb. Temporarily abandoning the lunging idea – the lunge ring is inconveniently situated in a paddock full of usually very calm schoolies; I doubt they would remain so calm should an angry young colt pull free and run into them – we started working on loading. The first couple of days were dreadful. Day one he was spooky and nervous; day two he realised how sympathetic I can be when he is nervous, so he pushed his luck and became downright rude and stubborn. On the third day, both sick of arguing, we finally both pulled together. I exercised more patience, which eventually persuaded him to exercise some brainpower, and he climbed into the box without further ado. We loaded him three or four times with the butt rope and he became calmer each time.
This was Sookie’s first full week of work, having had an easy week to settle in (I spent a whole session just scrubbing her so that her white could be properly white again), and she adjusted very well. She is getting a pile of maize-containing broodmare feed at the moment; I only had to lunge her once before I decided to change her over onto something without maize in it because normally ploddy Sookie was doing handstands and trying to squash my little dog. The next day she was much better and I walked her around the ring; and on the third day I climbed right up and rode her around the ring in three gaits. Her canter right was very awkward, and she felt like bucking, but I booted her through it and put it down to poor balance and lack of muscle tone. She was very willing, supple, and responsive, though – all hugely in her favour. Then we walked and trotted around the spooky big arena and she impressed me by not doing any of the dramatic spooks she used to when she was a baby.
Bruno also had a massive successful week. He just goes from strength to strength. After having some time off for the kick to his ribs, he was hardly hyper at all and the first time I rode him I was already asking for canter both ways. He has an irritating habit of drifting towards the inside of the ring, especially on the left rein, but doesn’t get violent about it. Just general baby pony stuff. Our last session was the best of all. I didn’t lunge him, just hopped on and did 3 gaits in the ring, then had a walk around the unfenced big arena. He was super. I love him more each time I sit on him. A confidence giver since the day he was backed – some lucky kid is going to have a blast on him.
As Lancelot’s sacroiliac injury was less tender, towards the end of the week I also brought him in and gave him a little lunging. He moves quite sound, but I didn’t put any weight on his back just in case. He was very well behaved and not at all as hyper as he usually is, but a little clumsy. I am very wary to be working him much until the chiro sorts out his back, so we’ll stick to light lunging and basic groundwork – loading and bathing – until that’s been done.
Our new arrival also had her first work week. Whisper is a little cremello mare that is here to be schooled and resold. I backed her in the spring for her owner and had put in some basics – walk and trot, a few steps of canter – before she was turned away for a few months. She is a very happy-go-lucky sort that is not much bothered by anything really, and I was back on her in short order doing everything we’d done before barring the canter. She finds the ring rather too small to balance at a canter with her rider on, so we’ll try that out in the big arena next week. On the ground she’s incredibly easy and relaxed to handle, which is a good thing, because dabbing sunscreen around pink cremello eyes is made considerably easier by a cooperative horse.
Thunder and Stardust had a very busy and good week being loved to bits by their kids. Dusty went on her first proper long group outride and was a perfect little angel, not putting a toenail wrong. Dusty is rather good at being a perfect little angel. Baby Thunder remains occasionally careless over fences, but still his straight, solid self.
Another blessed week with my beloved King Jesus at His own stableyard. How great Thou art! ❤ With this being Easter Weekend, we are more thankful than ever for what He did for us. We will never forget Your sacrifice. How could we when what You have done sets us free every single day? When Your courage and love changed our lives forever? Thank You Lord ❤
Oh, Nell. It’s just kind of unfair to have a horse like Nell in your life.
You sit down to look at her goals and sort of go, “Well…” because this horse is schooling and showing higher level Novice, and she just turned five. For the record, in our country, that’s kind of on track for a top level prospect. It’s the level required of five-year-olds in our young horse performance series… so I entered it.
Honestly when I got the schedule I kind of regretted the idea (apparently big names also like young horse series, like WEG kind of big names) but hey, the mare can do the test – has done the test at shows multiple times – so why not? She will be one little grey Nooitie in a whole class of Friesians and Warmbloods, she’ll at least draw some attention to the breed.
Nell’s goals are also a little wobbly because she’s not mine. Her owner has every right to decide at the end of the year that she has done quite well enough, and then take her back and breed glorious little dressage Nooities. Still, if it’s his will (and God’s will) the judges who’ve seen the horse believe she could go to a pretty high level, so we’re going to work towards that. It might not happen… but if it does, we’ll be ready to go and do it.
Nell’s 2016 Goals
Qualify for the Provincials at the Young Horse Performance Series. All we need here is to complete at two of the three qualifiers. The tests will increase in difficulty within the Novice level as the series go on, but I’m not too worried about that – she’s already entered for Novice 4 and 5 at the Nooities’ dressage this weekend, so she can deal with it. IF she keeps her brain in her pretty head, she should be able to do this.
Compete, graded, at the higher Novice tests. Getting our points for Elementary would be ideal, but that’ll also depend on our show calendar for the year. I’d like to get at least a few points, so we have to score 55% or above.
Go to a jumping training show at a low level. Nell’s not just an awesome dressage diva – the little lady has a careful but confident jump, too. She’s no showjumper, but my ultimate jumping goal with her would be to do working hunter at next Horse of the Year, too. Because Nooities rock the versatility thing.
School lower level Elementary successfully. We have most of the required moves – they just need polishing. The 2017 goal would be to compete in Elementary, starting with the 6-year-old classes at YHPS.
Compete in any available Nooitgedachter shows. Nell needs some more mileage before she’s going to be a winning show horse under saddle, but she’s proven that she can kick butt in hand already.
Most of Nellie’s goals this year are going to be about reinforcing, polishing, and improving on training she already has. I’m taking off the pressure in terms of learning the higher level movements quickly, unless she gets bored or offers them; she’s learning very fast, and the last thing we want to do is cook this promising brain and body. If we’re careful about how we lay this foundation, it’ll stand us in good stead through the levels.
Exavior is one of my biggest learning curves at this point. It’s true – warmbloods are a different kettle of fish. I had always thought that they must be rather like large, glorified thoroughbreds, but there is definitely an extra element of power – and pushiness – with them. The sheer size factor is also something very new, with almost every other horse I work with standing under 15 hands and Exavior standing nearly 15.3 at the age of two. But there’s no getting around the fact that there is something a little heart-stopping, a little breathtaking about that rippling power packaged in burnished chestnut. He can also be a little maddening because when he puts his mind to it he’s smart, talented, and infinitely trainable; the rest of the time he’s too busy goofing off to pay attention and merely plops around doing as he pleases.
This big baby did well on his goals last year, though:
Exavior’s 2015 Goals
Complete advanced halter training – Done. He will walk and trot politely, stand up square when asked, and lead from both sides without issues. Sometimes when going past mares he wants to jump up on his hindlegs, but this is improving and should improve exponentially when he’s no longer a colt. We put him to Magic Lady this spring and he was well-mannered enough that I could handle him for all the covers, so that’s quite a win – I never dared go near any of the other stallions I know at cover time.
Leading over, through and under scary things – Done. We’ve led under low roofs and branches, over logs and tarpaulins, and in narrow passageways.
Leading away from his group – Done. He’s way more excited to go see the girls than stick with his paddock buddy, currently Magic.
Bathing – 75% done. You could probably bath him but it wouldn’t be pleasant. He’s cool with water being on his forequarters but can throw a tantrum about having a wet butt.
Desensitisation to noise and sight – Done. Plastic bags, tarps, whatever – he just deals.
Loading preparation – Done. Leading over a tarp, under a low roof, and in a narrow passage just fine.
Loading – Not done. We just didn’t get to this last year, but with his pressure/release understanding being good and the preparation work done, he should be quite easy to train.
Injections – Improved. He used to jump up immediately on seeing a vet or syringe, but now he just fusses. You still have to be careful and really, really quick but I’m seeing improvement with every shot.
Be gelded – Not yet. This whole winter the necessary bits refused to descend; that’s for next winter.
Lowering of the head when requested by pressure on the halter – Perfect. He’ll put his nose on the floor for me to take his bridle off, which is kind of awesome when you’re as short as I am.
Basic lunging with a halter and long line only – Done. He lunges really nicely in three gaits now, on voice commands.
Wearing a roller – Done. It took him a few tries but now he accepts it beautifully.
Lunging over poles – He has been introduced to poles, but not yet a proper series of them.
Wearing boots – Done. He didn’t bat an eye.
Preparation for clipping – Not done. Mostly because his owner is kind of broke and doesn’t have a pair of clippers around that can be destroyed during desensitisation of stupid young elephant-sized colts.
Bathing. If you’re going to insist on being chestnut with four white stockings, you’re going to be good to bath. This is just going to be a matter of steady repetition, but we’ll get there.
Loading. I think this should be a pretty quick fix, but he needs to self-load. I’m not a fan of baby warmbloods jumping on their back legs when they don’t want to go in the box.
Continued improvement on injections. Again, this is just a matter of repetition without any bad experiences.
Lunging over poles. This is an important one for strengthening and developing the muscles in his butt and hindlegs, which will help to push his slight cow hocks straighter.
Introduction to small free jumps. The sooner he learns that he goes between the uprights every single time, the better. He’s too young for real jumping, so we’ll keep the fences small enough to just trot over.
Backing. He’s a baby so I’m in no hurry, but I’d rather get on him while he’s not quite the size of a monster truck yet. He is nearly there; he accepts the saddle and bridle, works correctly in side reins and long-lines fairly well. He allows me to put my foot in the stirrup, stand over him in one stirrup and lean over him without issues. He just needs to have his long-lining perfected and to carry the sandbags I use to desensitise the babies to weights and movement by their sides, and we’re golden.
Basic aids in walk. There’s no need to trot and canter around with me on him just yet, but he can learn a solid foundation of whoa, go and turn in a walk only.
This is stuff I normally try to achieve in about three months with client horses, so he’s got a slow year ahead of him, but it’s about what his baby brain can cope with right now. He will probably be turned away for several months throughout the year just to relax and grow up – in fact he has a month off ahead of him from next week.
He is my little miracle horse and God’s will has been so abundant in his life already. Glory to the King.
More than any of the others, I’ve learned to make Magic’s goals flexible. Force isn’t an option with him, but he’s made so much progress nonetheless that just going with the flow seems to work for him. Nevertheless, we shall make a plan, if only so that we can do the exact opposite.
Magic’s 2015 Goals
Improve fitness – Done. He gets and stays fit very easily, and has so much nervous energy anyway that he never tires out at shows.
Tie up – Done, well enough. Magic will never be the type you can tie to whatever and forget about, because forgetting about Magic is just a dumb idea, but he no longer habitually flies back. One can tie him and groom him and all will be OK as long as nothing terrifies him.
Load – Again, never going to be the type that just plods along in, but he loads in half a minute so no worries here.
School Novice – Done. We’ve trained up to Novice 3, snaffle and all, completing all the figures and transitions obediently and in good rhythm, frame and straightness.
Survive a hack – Well, we did this. But we’re not awfully likely to do this again. It’s just not something I need to deal with right now, and as a competing horse, hacking is a thing that should be done for relaxation and a change of scenery for the horse. For Magic, it’s a torture session. Not his thing.
Be confident at 80cm – Done! He skips over 80cm like nobody’s business.
Show graded at 70cm showjumping – Halfway done. He’s shown at 70-75cm in training shows five times now with all clear rounds, and he’s ready to go up. But his getting sick in September put the brakes on showing for the rest of the year, so we never registered for graded.
Finish getting back the topline muscle he lost when he was sick. His butt and back are good again, but his neck still needs to develop all over again.
School Novice 4, 5, and 6. He’s no dressage horse, but he needs these basics. Lateral work, counter canter, and medium canter can only help him.
Make 90cm our comfort zone at home. 80cm is now where we’re happy. We do 90cm from time to time, but it’s kind of pushing my nerves. He has miles and miles of scope and guts to spare at this height, so if we can just ease into jumping this by the end of the year, we can keep on going up and up.
Show graded at 70cm. We could do this really easily if he keeps his brain in his head at the next show. We’re doing another training show at 70cm this month, and if it goes well, we’ll sign up for graded.
Show at 80cm, graded or training. This will more than likely be graded, but if I’m not up to that pressure, I’m not going to sweat it. Height has never been an issue for Magic so we can cope with this just fine.